A Life Less Ordinary: Remembering Sylvia Kristel

“I continue to live off my name, a first name-my only role-Emmanuelle. In this use of me there is a mistake, an abuse, a total and violent conflict with who I am. I may smile, may act carefree and consenting, may continue speaking up for sexual freedom and asserting that in Nordic countries nudity is considered normal. But none of this erotic universe is in the least bit natural to me. I draw on inspiration, on my imagination, on other people’s desire, but not on my own experience. I continue being cast against type, telling myself that I have no choice.”

-Sylvia Kristel, Undressing Emmanuelle: A Memoir

The news of Sylvia Kristel’s passing came to me this morning as I was sitting in my living room, drinking my early-morning black coffee, and feeling the cool Autumn air blowing in through an open window.  Even though the news was expected, due to Sylvia’s tragic health issues, I was still filled with an unbelievable sense of sadness and loss…and regret…regret that I hadn’t done more to celebrate one of my favorite actors and film icons.  Even with my tribute site and all my posts on her great, relatively unseen, films I feel like I could have done more to pay tribute to one of modern cinema’s great undervalued poets. 

Sylvia Kristel was indeed a poet..a remarkable actress and performer who projected more with her body and movement than most of our ‘great’ actors could ever hope to.  Sylvia was also a prisoner to her most famous role and this morning as the news is being reported all over the world it is the name ‘Emmanuelle’ that keeps being mentioned.  I suppose it is fair that almost all of the focus is on the character that Sylvia Kristel played for the first time in 1974, as it is one of the most famous characters in film history, but the career and life of such a fascinating woman was so much more than just this one character. 

While her life was filled with much tragedy and her film career eventually collapsed in on itself due to an ill-advised bid to Hollywood, Sylvia Kristel will ultimately be remembered as one of the great icons and figures of the seventies.  I have harbored the hope as well that eventually the remarkable string of films she made in Europe between 1974 and 1978 will someday get their due.  For a brief period, Kristel became the great muse to several of modern cinema’s greatest auteurs and it is the work she did in films like La Marge, Une Femme Fidele, Alice or the Last Escapade and Rene the Cane that stand as her greatest legacy. 

Shy, reserved and haunted by a powerful loneliness all of her life, Sylvia Kristel came alive on the screen…her stillness, the way she used her body, the penetrating gaze of her stare broke through all of the self doubt and isolation she felt in her daily life.  It was this daring confidence she managed to project on the screen that made Kristel such an important figure in the sexual revolution and that persona that came through in the first two Emmanuelle films, as well as Just Jaeckin’s supremely undervalued adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, remains so incredibly resonate.  Kristel was a spearhead to the modern pro-sex feminist movement and her life and career are deserving of so much more attention and study than they have ever been granted. 

As the news of Sylvia’s passing spread this morning I was contacted by several kind friends on Facebook offering some words of comfort, as I have never made my great admiration for this woman a secret.  One friend asked me if I had ever met her and I had to sadly answer no, although I have been told that she was aware of my tribute site and I have long suspected that she read, and possibly commented, on my review of her book. 

A great actress, an accomplished painter, an acclaimed author, an award-winning filmmaker and a great cultural icon, Sylvia Kristel was a really special artist and, by all accounts, a kind and generous human being.  I absolutely adored this woman and will continue to feel, to my core, that I knew her even though our paths never crossed.

-Jeremy Richey, 2012-

Originally published at Moon in the Gutter.



  1. Richard Arte Digital · October 19, 2012

    Beautiful words Mr Richey! My deepest sympathies for this loss. Since I learned about Sylvia Kristel passing there were mixed emotions. The relieve because she stopped suffering and a deep sadness for a star who should have deserved more credit than icons such as Marilyn Monroe. She certainly marked an era of sensuality not only on cinema but in the hearts of those who will always remember those gorgeous eyes, masking a deep sadness with a sea of hotness. Long live Emannuelle!


  2. Johnny Stanwyck · October 19, 2012

    Such a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to an amazing woman. Still in shock over here…


  3. Johnny Stanwyck · October 19, 2012

    …I'll be devoting the whole month of November on my blog to Sylvia. Sorry for two comments right in a row, just thrown for such a loop hearing that Sylvia has gone.


  4. Edgardo Costa Madeira · November 17, 2012

    Today, as I write, is the first month of the death of beloved Silvia Kristel … RIP


  5. Edgardo Costa Madeira · November 17, 2012

    Today, as I write, it's the first month over the death of beloved Silvia Kristel … RIP Great pain… Allways on my mind …


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